Relatives and Relativity

With everything that goes on over Christmas and New Year I thought it was a wise decision to take a break from writing, but I have missed penning these short pieces. Although they are time consuming there is a therapy in the art. Other than my regular letters to Sasha and a few bits of business, the keyboard has been silent.

I didn’t celebrate New Year’s Eve. Unlike Christmas it is a forward looking moment and with Sasha still in Kiev I was OK just watching the Jools Holland Hootenanny on the television. Ed Sheeran was brilliant.

Christmas was, of course, the highlight and the day itself was spent at Lucinda’s with all my family. As Annie said, it was probably the first time in the ten years or so since we separated that all of us had been together. Ben was there with his fiancée Hannah, and we are looking forward to their wedding in April. Maddie was there with Rob, but the pride of place was shared between the Mighty Bertie and his Great Grandmother. Four generations of the family together.

I made the chocolate truffles and added to them this year with chocolate coated caramelised orange peel. So good they took far less time to eat than it took you to read this sentence. Bertie was inundated with presents to sit on, ride on, push, build or read. Next year could be even better for him when he can open them all himself!!

Just like Father Christmas travelling is another holiday pastime. For me travelling to deepest Kent meant that I had more than four hours of driving.

When I concentrate I would say that I am a reasonably good driver but finding the highest levels of concentration, day to day, is not easy. I have been known to fill the car with sandwiches, Pepsi, and cigarettes so I can eat, drink or smoke just to give me something to do as a relief from the monotony of driving as the miles pass by. Now, as my diet improves, I am left with just the Diet Pepsi. It should not be a surprise to learn I am always more than happy to let Sasha drive as she seems to enjoy it. I never complain.

This is not going to be a great advert for my skills, but I can often find myself in a catatonic state of boredom behind the wheel. Driving becomes auto pilot and my mind is elsewhere and I find reprieve in imaginary conversations with famous people, often now dead.

My favourites chats are with Einstein and Richard Feynman as there a thousand questions I need to ask. I would need Einstein to answer my questions and Feynman because he is the best of all physicists to speak in an understandable layman language. Feynman is the master of thinking and musing the most improbable of thoughts. He once suggested that there is only electron in existence and it happens to be everywhere at the same time, but that is for another day.

Now I have taken you down this road with me maybe you want to share my debate.

“I understand,” I would say to Einstein, “why mass and energy are proportional. That makes perfect sense to me.” Had I been asked, before he had popularised his famous equation E=MC2, I might even have intuitively written something along those lines, in a blog or book.

I burn something, and its mass becomes energy, even if I am not converting it all. Sometimes I feel that all my mass is energy waiting to be put together to a good use. I also understand that to change a relationship into an equation we need a constant.

“Now, Mr Einstein, here is my question. Why is that constant the square of the speed of light? What has the speed of light got to do with mass and energy?”

That is what we would talk about, probably right through the night.

I don’t want to exclude Richard Feynman and while we are chatting I would ask him why the speed of light is the fastest anything can go? Why is it nature’s top speed limit? It makes no sense to me why there is a fastest anything can go.

As I pass another service station on the motorway I am well into this conversation.

“Richard,” I say, feeling now that I have earned the right for familiarity through the importance of my observations on the laws of physics. “We know that light can look like and behave as either a wave or a particle, depending on the situation. Light reflects and refracts as a wave but get it to interact with other particles, such as with the electrons in a metal causing the photoelectric effect, boom, boom it looks like a particle.”

Nodding and agreement from everyone.

“Mr Einstein has just told me that as anything accelerates towards the speed of light its mass increases and at the speed of light its mass is infinite or alternatively that the energy required to get a mass to the speed of light is infinite.”

More nodding and agreement but the killer point is still about to come.

“But, if light really is sometimes a particle how can it travel at the speed of light. How the f*** does that happen. We all know that light isn’t super, super heavy. If you’re right, then light either can’t be a particle or it can’t be travelling at the speed of light. Now that is a real contradiction.”

Sort that one for me please Mr Feynman or just send the Nobel Prize to my home address.

If it’s not physics, then it is behavioural economics or the use of Catastrophe Theory to understand and predict fluctuations on stock exchanges. This is a conversation I often have with Rene Thom the French mathematician the developer of catastrophe theory and Professor Ian Stewart (who happily is still alive). Chris Zeeman may just pop in half way through to add a point or two.

You can see why my driving can become distracted. There is always so much I don’t know and so much that I need to understand and learn.

Don’t tell me, I know. I must put all this to one side and concentrate properly on the road ahead or I won’t have to wait for the afterlife to understand the answers ……. unless someone who reads this is going to help me?

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